TAMPA — With residents just learning they must move out this year, no sale recorded with Hillsborough County and no development plans filed at City Hall, it’s too early to say much about what the future of the site of the Tampa Park Apartments will be.
But it appears possible to say what it won’t be: a train station for Brightline-Virgin Trains USA’s planned Tampa-to-Orlando rail service.
Two years ago, the apartment complex was among a handful of sites in or near downtown Tampa that Brightline scouted as potential station sites, along with the nearby Tampa Union Station railroad depot and the old Morgan Street jail site.
On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Times asked Brightline, which plans to change its name to Virgin Trains USA as a result of a partnership with Sir Richard Branson, if the South Florida rail company was involved in the Tampa Park Apartments transaction or anticipated using any part of the property for a station or other development.
“Spoke with our real-estate team and this isn’t related to us,” Brightline senior vice president for corporate affairs Ben Porritt said in an email Wednesday to the Times.
Tenants at the 21-acre complex between downtown Tampa and Ybor City told the Times this week that they were told by apartment management they cannot stay beyond Nov. 1 because the property has been sold. The change means that more than 1,000 residents, many of them poor, elderly, black or all three, must find a new place to live.
The complex’s longtime owner is a nonprofit organization led by Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper publisher S. Kay Andrews. She has not responded to voicemail messages or text messages from the Times about the status or the future of the property.
Ybor City property investor Daryl Shaw, who bought the neighboring Gas Worx property — yes, it’s really spelled that way — in 2016 for $10 million, has said he was in talks with Andrews but wouldn’t comment when asked if he’s the buyer.
For a time, the Tampa Park Apartments also were in the conversation about the Tampa Bay Rays’ idea to move to Ybor City, though more as a site for potential spin-off development around a stadium than as a location for a new ballpark itself.
Shaw, who owned 11 parcels in and around the proposed ballpark site and was under contract to buy two more when the Rays gave up, still likes the idea of the team playing near his Gas Worx property.
“I’d love to see the Rays stay in the Tampa Bay area,” he said Tuesday. “I’d love to see them in Ybor City.”
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On Wednesday, Shaw didn’t respond to further inquiries about his possible involvement.
In August 2018, Shaw was among about two dozen City Hall officials and business leaders who flew to Miami to learn more about Brightline’s business model, which combines using private funds to establish city-to-city rail service with high-rise mixed-use development at its stations.
For example, Brightline’s MiamiCentral project in Overtown includes 1.6 million square feet of development, with two office towers, two apartment towers, 130,000 square feet of stores and restaurants and a train station.
“Super impressed,” Shaw said on the tour, acknowledging that he had talked with Brightline executives about the potential of the 7.6-acre Gas Worx property near the proposed Rays stadium. At the time, the Rays had wanted a parking garage built there, but Shaw said there might have been space for something else, too.